Sunday, September 21, 2014

For The Planet

It was indeed the largest climate march in history.  More than 300,000 people marched in Manhattan, joined by thousands more in London, Melbourne and other cities.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Peoples March: This Thin Blue Line

This could be the start of something big.  The Peoples' Climate March will greet the UN as it focuses on climate issues, this Sunday in New York City.  Organizers are preparing for what seems very likely to be the largest demonstration on the climate crisis ever in the US.

The organizers obviously have studied the 1963 March on Washington.  They've created a coalition of political, religious and labor groups, plus environmental justice and community organizations that will participate--some 1100 organizations in all.

Almost 400 buses and trains are set to transport marchers.  Throw in some flights and there are marchers from all 50 states, including more than 300 college campuses.  And there will be music--at least 20 marching bands. A feature in the New York Times emphasizes the preparations for spectacle associated with the event:

The run-up to what organizers say will be the largest protest about climate change in the history of the United States has transformed New York City into a beehive of planning and creativity, drawing graying local activists and young artists from as far away as Germany.

The march is the centerpiece of a weekend of related activities in 130 countries as well as New York City.  The primary organizer is the 350 Project.  There's a video warmup called "Disruption."

The March on Washington changed the debate.  Maybe this march in New York will do the same. This time it's not about the color line.  It's about the thin blue line around the planet that makes life possible.  The stakes could not be higher.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

American Indeceny

President Kennedy, whose raising of the US minimum
wage in 1961 led to the Super Great Depression of the
1960s and the economic ruin of America.
The US Census Bureau's annual report on income and poverty released this week was covered in the media under a weird diversity of headlines.  Everyone seemed to focus on something different as its most important finding, or at least, its news (or ideological) hook.  In fact, the changes indicated in the report were very small.  But as John Cassidy wrote in the New Yorker, that's really its news significance.  And in a longer-term context, it explains a lot about our current political deadlock, its vociferous quality, and in particular a reason President Obama isn't getting the usual credit for an improving economy.

Though some measures of poverty declined and median income was up slightly: "There is a long way to go before ordinary Americans are able to recover the losses that they suffered during the recession. Median household income was eight per cent lower in 2013 than it was in 2007, when the recession began. And the poverty rate in 2013 was two percentage points higher than it was in 2007.

These figures may help to explain why so many Americans refuse to believe that the economy is recovering, and why President Obama’s approval ratings are stuck at near-record lows despite falling unemployment and accelerating G.D.P. growth." 

Yes, most Americans are better off than they were four years ago, or even six.  But not seven.  It's not just the pace of growth that's the problem, Cassidy writes.  It's who has benefited, and who has and has not been benefiting for a long time. "The central message of the Census Bureau figures is that the same trends that have been roiling the American economy for the past twenty-five years—income stagnation and rising inequality—continue to have an impact."

According to Cassidy:  "When spending power is rising broadly, benefitting most social, geographic, and income groups, it is much easier to get rival political parties and factions to coƶperate. Consensus politics can thrive, as they did in the postwar era. But when most people’s incomes are stagnating, and have been for decades, politics become darker and more fractious."

While those many who aren't seeing gains and may be slipping back might fight among themselves for what little there is, the few at the top "have a big incentive to get more involved politically," to stifle any policies that in the short term might take any of their disproportionate gains away.

"To oversimplify a bit, income stagnation paired with rising inequality is a recipe for political polarization and, under the American system of divided powers, political gridlock, which is what we have. Based on the latest Census Bureau figures, there’s no sign of that changing anytime soon."

We can see conspicuous effects of this in for example the virulent opposition to even the idea of climate change paid for by fossil fuel gazillionaires.  We also see it in the scandalous opposition to a modest rise in the US minimum wage.

I can recall the same doomsday cant being promulgated in 1961 about President Kennedy's proposal to raise the minimum wage to a horrifying $1.25 an hour as I hear now on the proposal today to raise it from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour.  William Finnegan (again in the New Yorker) chronicles the many times between these two proposals when the minimum wage was raised, and those who opposed it trotted out with a straight face the same dire predictions of economic disaster and worse, that were predicted for previous raises but never happened.  Usually the opposite.

Finnegan quotes the original principles behind the minimum wage as articulated by FDR in language too bold for us some 80 years later: “No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country...By living wages, I mean more than a bare subsistence level. I mean the wages of decent living.”

Finnegan checks data that shows how "depressingly modest" the $10.10 proposal actually is--yet Republicans have made it a sacred mission to defeat it.  In what should have been (and may yet turn out to be) congressional Republicans' "49% moment," Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell was recorded telling wealthy donors that when the Republicans get the Senate majority, there won't be any minimum wage nonsense in Congress anymore.  Other speakers revived the talk of something in the direction of,  but not really a living wage as a major step to fascism, communism and the rule of Satan.

Even if this federal minimum wage were to become law, it would not be big enough to put much of a dent in rampaging income inequality.  Citing figures from a recent study, Finnegan concludes: "Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would increase the income of at least sixteen million workers. It would not lift anywhere near that many people out of poverty. The proposed hike would ease present hardship, not abolish it. It would be a move in the direction of “the wages of decent living”—a performance, one might say, of decency itself."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

“The systems that fail are those that rely on the permanency of human nature, and not on its growth and development.”
Oscar Wilde

Boots on the Ground to Battle Ebola

It's reported that on Tuesday President Obama visits the Center for Disease Control hq in Atlanta to announce that he is sending some 3,000 military personnel to West Africa.  But these boots on the ground will be battling Ebola.  They are to provide medical and logistical support to efforts to treat victims and address the quickly spreading disease.

This and other actions are responding to requests for more assistance by countries in the region.  The US has already spent over $100 million on initial efforts.  These new initiatives reportedly include training health care workers (as many as 500 a week), erecting new facilities, providing home health care kits to thousands of housheolds, other community-based programs and setting up a central hq to coordinate US and international relief.

Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN, called for an emergency meeting of the Security Council to address the crisis.  This Thursday session, she said, would be a rare case of the Security Council focusing on a public health emergency.

Earlier this month, President Obama spoke to West Africans directly on addressing this crisis.

The severity of the epidemic has been linked by some to effects of the climate crisis. West Africa suffers from prolonged drought, among other effects. Some scientists say the situation needs to be studied more closely to establish such a direct link.

Update: Here's a story about President Obama's announcement Tuesday, with video excerpts.

Monday, September 15, 2014

More Fire, Less Water

Late September and the fires continue.  Among those burning in Oregon and California, a new one in Siskiyou County that led to emergency evacuations of some 2,000 people.

Meanwhile more locally, according to the Eureka Times Standard: "The Eel River has gone so dry where the river runs through Fortuna that the water is no longer coming to the surface, something never known to have happened before this close to the ocean on the main stem."

A recent report shows water use down by about 7% statewide from last summer.  Here in Humboldt, where we have gotten zero guidance on conservation, it's down by 10%.  Downstate however in areas of southern CA where they've gotten lots of public noise, it went up.

The California drought has international effects.  This article is an eye-opener: on the global reach of California almonds, on the issues of water and prices that are bound to go up.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


Commemorating 100,000 Italian soldiers who died in a single place in the Great War one hundred years ago, Pope Francis said, "War is madness."  

Though he said international use of force is justified to counter ISIL's aggression, he also suggested that World War III has already begun, but piecemeal, in a collection of massacres, crimes and destruction.

He was speaking at the largest monument in Italy, at Redipuglia.  "Humanity needs to weep," he said, "and this is the time to weep."

The identities of 60,000 of the Italian dead at Redipuglia are unknown.  But Italian officials did find the military records for the grandfather of Pope Francis, who fought in some of the 12 battles in this place, and survived.  His family later emigrated to Argentina, which is where the current pope grew up.

My grandfather Ignazio Severini emigrated to America in 1920. He had been called up by the Italian army in the Great War, what we now call World War I. He never talked about it to me.  I don't know where he was posted, and my grandmother's few stories were not about battle. But she did say he was posted to the north, which Redipuglia is.  My aunt told me that he had been gassed, and suffered effects from it for years afterwards.

So it is possible that Ignazio Severini was there.  Today, the current Italian minister of Justice, Paola Severino was present at the ceremonies.

 Wherever Ignazio Severini had been, he survived. Perhaps, my grandmother believed, because he was a tailor, and the officers kept him safe so they would look good in their uniforms. War is madness. Still, he experienced poison gas, so maybe not so safe.

 But he was not among those 100,000. He came home, married my grandmother and fathered a daughter, Flora, my mother.  The anniversary of her birth is today.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


In one of two New Yorker pieces loaded with healthy skepticism about US options in the Middle East, Philip Gourevitch concluded (referring to President Obama's speech yesterday):

"We can only wish that he succeeds—whatever that might mean. On this anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we remember the wound that Al Qaeda dealt us, but we cannot forget the far greater toll of the self-inflicted wounds that America endured in the fever that followed. Obama had hoped to be the President who would bind those self-inflicted wounds and reposition us in the world. His previous caution was not simply a character trait; it was a sober response to the reality of our past interventions, of our wars that have begat more and worse wars." 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Leadership in Today's World

In a brief and ultimately eloquent address to the nation, President Obama outlined international efforts to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the terrorist group he calls ISIL, refusing to use the name the media uses that supports their claim to be an Islamic state. (They aren't a state, he said, and they aren't Islamic.) White House detailed summary is here, and the full transcript is here.

All this follows a lot of sound and fury signifying hypocrisy and misplaced partisanship more than actual anxiety or alternate plan.  Or, their alternate plan turns out to be just what President Obama has been doing.  (Frank Rich:"They offer no strategy of their own beyond an inchoate bellicosity expressed in constructions along the lines of “we must more forcefully do whatever it is that Obama is doing.” That’s because Obama is already doing the things that can be done (and that some of his critics redundantly suggest)..."

The general idiocy behind the noise is summarized by Michael Cohen in the NY Daily News.  Meanwhile President Obama did what he said he would do: he got NATO to materially support and help develop a strategy (not only in the Middle East but the other foreign policy challenges in Ukraine and the Ebola epidemic in Africa.)

President Obama also insisted that further American support depended on Iraq forming a more inclusive government, which they promptly did, at least so far.  So he was able to announce more US air strikes to support Iraqi ground efforts to combat ISIL.

At the same time, he emphasized: "But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground."

It is important to state that this use of air power--which means deadly, ugly, killing bombing--does not include the kind of wholesale bombing of cities and civilians that the Shock and Awe Bushites ordered.  Targeted drone and piloted aircraft strikes are horrific, and sometimes go wrong, and sometimes kill innocents. They certainly raise legal as well as moral questions. But they are measurably different than the bombing of Iraq under both Bushes, and the bombings in southeast Asia in the Vietnam era.

As President Obama pointed out, systematic efforts to degrade and destroy terrorist organizations threatening the US have been ongoing.  This is a policy that not all of his supporters agree with, but he was forthright about it: "This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years. And it is consistent with the approach I outlined earlier this year: to use force against anyone who threatens America’s core interests, but to mobilize partners wherever possible to address broader challenges to international order."

It is a pragmatic policy of countering present threats while pulling back from the larger practices that motivate new members of terrorist groups.  President Obama was equally forthright in affirming that he will follow terrorists into Syria as he followed bin Laden into Pakistan. "This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven."

But he also emphasized gaining meaningful international support, especially from the Arab world.  He will chair a session of the UN Security Council to mobilize more nations.

He ended with an eloquent summary of American leadership for the good, and affirmed his own optimism about the country now. "It is America that has the capacity and the will to mobilize the world against terrorists. It is America that has rallied the world against Russian aggression, and in support of the Ukrainian peoples’ right to determine their own destiny. It is America -- our scientists, our doctors, our know-how -- that can help contain and cure the outbreak of Ebola. It is America that helped remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons so that they can’t pose a threat to the Syrian people or the world again. And it is America that is helping Muslim communities around the world not just in the fight against terrorism, but in the fight for opportunity, and tolerance, and a more hopeful future."

Reaction  is starting to be registered, and the first meaningful moments will be whether Republicans in Congress can do more than carp and bellow.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

PA and 'Burgh Update

It's true I haven't been back to Pennsylvania for awhile, but I do like to keep up with developments.

For instance, as our Pennsylvania correspondent informs us,  the race for governor is shaping up to be a blowout, with the Republican incumbent Tom Corbett (that's apparently him, above right) behind by 30 points in the latest polls to the Democrat, a man named Wolf (I think that's him on the left.)

Perhaps in an effort to cut into that immense deficit in the polls, Corbett recently relented and agreed to Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

I've also noted that my old home town of Pittsburgh was twice honored on the same day: named (once again) the Most Livable City in the continental US, AND Pittsburgh drivers were named The Worst of all in smaller US cities.  Great to see it's the same old 'burgh.

But there is one new wrinkle.  Back when I lived there and the new Pittsburgh International Airport opened, it was the innovative pride of the industry, and most airports built since then were modeled on it.  The hub of USAir, it was a bustling place with prosperous shops.  Now it's nobody's hub, with shuttered gates and closed shops.  But it's finding a new source of income, an innovation which could also spread: it's going to be fracked.  What a fracking shame.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Money Doesn't Talk, It Swears

Sometimes a cartoon can say what a thousand jargon-filled technical arguments cannot.  In the New Yorker, two members of Congress (it would seem), with one asking, "How much speech did you take in last month?"  And so the utter absurdity of equating campaign money with speech (the basis of the Supreme Court's striking down various campaign spending limits) is utterly exposed.

Today the Washington Post exposes another fact summarized this time in the line of a now old song: "Money doesn't talk, it swears."  Big money donors are getting unprecedented "access" to officeholders, which is a wink and a nod way of saying large-scale bribery.  Now in the stretch run of the 2014 elections, the latest SC permissions have led to even greater amounts that the very rich spend on buying their politicians and the government they want, as the Post writes:

Together, 310 donors gave a combined $11.6 million more by this summer than would have been allowed before the ruling. Their contributions favored Republican candidates and committees over Democratic ones by 2 to 1.

In a number of articles on his site (such as this one) Bill Moyers has been chronicling the spending and the effects of "access," or "influence."  Although outnumbered, Dems have their billionaires too, but as a contributor to Moyers site finds, the big money corrupts the liberal side too.

 As immense wealth is concentrated in fewer hands, these super-rich support their own interests at the expense of the many, especially those at the bottom.  So it's not terribly surprising that Mitch McConnell was "caught" on tape promising billionaires that he will keep voting against increases in the minimum wage.

The situation is so widespread that activists are turning to ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage, although ballot initiatives themselves are most often a plaything of the wealthy.

Washington politicians are increasingly millionaires themselves, and their billionaire connections insure lucrative "fees" and cushy positions after their "service."  Money in politics doesn't talk, it swears.  More specifically it says: fuck you.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

More Than Mourning

This is the 100th anniversary of the last known passenger pigeon.  That's her--Martha--who died in 1914.  It seems remote in history, but today in San Francisco a woman saw her first major league baseball game--she is nearly 108.  On her first day of school there were still passenger pigeons.

 The extinction of a species is in some ways a technical matter.  There are other pigeon species that probably share genes with the passenger pigeon.  But each species extinction lessens the genetic diversity that keep populations healthy, and these losses eventually lead to the disappearance of what we non-scientists would describe as types of animal or plant life.  Not just one kind of tiger, but tigers, something that's in the cards as effects of the climate crisis combine with the other human-causes of lethal poisons, industrial hunting and destroyed habitat and range.
Martha was a harbinger of a century of extinction that rivals any period in Terran history.  That we mourn these extinctions and have made the passenger pigeon their icon is (as Elizabeth Kolbert notes) relatively new outside of indigenous cultures, and laudable.  That scientists are trying to figure out how to revive Martha's breed is in itself interesting but suggests our all too prevalent techno-fix response, which demonstrates our ignorance as well as our feeling.  Far better would be to do the hard work of cleaning up our chemical act, and restoring habitat and range for existing species.

Because extinctions in the 21st century may well make the 20th look innocent.  All primates are threatened, a lot of large animals and a large number of bird species: some 1300 may go extinct, according to this National Geographic article, including the one pictured below, an African fish eagle.

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Sense of Urgency

A lot of precious time has been wasted before addressing the climate crisis--so much that the crisis was not averted, it's here, though just beginning.   For awhile the science wasn't exact enough for a scientific consensus as exists today, though reasonable political leaders might have erred on the side of taking even the likelihood of a climate crisis seriously enough to act.  In the past decade or more the science has been overwhelming, but oppositional politics and media took hold, with decreasing relevance to the facts and the issue.

So today the Republican party is in lockstep opposition to any acknowledgement  let alone action on the climate crisis.  That partisan political stance means for one thing that a formal international treaty on mutual actions to address the climate crisis would almost certainly fail to achieve the 67 votes in the U.S. Senate required by the Constitution to ratify it and make it law.

Other countries also have their own political problems in achieving such a treaty.  Now it turns out that negotiations are well underway for an international agreement next year that will not require a Senate vote.  The agreement would be in part based on existing treaties, and in part on voluntary compliance via "name and shame."  The NY Times:    

"Countries would be legally required to enact domestic climate change policies — but would voluntarily pledge to specific levels of emissions cuts and to channel money to poor countries to help them adapt to climate change. Countries might then be legally obligated to report their progress toward meeting those pledges at meetings held to identify those nations that did not meet their cuts."

Jonathan Chiat has a very good column on the rationale for this effort--mostly that the dimensions of the crisis require taking the risk.  The problems are too serious and coming too quickly to dither anymore.  With the usual steps forward and back, an international sense of urgency nevertheless is growing.

  The US politics however are pretty interesting.  There's reporting that many congressional Republicans know there's a crisis that has to be addressed but politically can't afford to recognize it, lest they be primaried by the zealots they've been nurturing. Chiat observes: "Given the seriousness and urgency — you can’t un-melt a glacier — the broad way to think about climate politics is that Republicans have ceded the field completely."

There's also the question of the effectiveness of "voluntary" compliance, although there is really no third party way to enforce a treaty anyway.  Much of what needs to be done relies on trust, and some key observers believe that past guidelines have resulted in progress.  Chiat:

"Center for American Progress fellow Peter Ogden, the former White House National Security staff director for climate change and environmental policy, points out in Foreign Affairs that the Copenhagen summit, which failed to produce a binding treaty, “was actually a turning point in international climate talks,” and has produced significant carbon reductions."

Key to such an agreement working are the carbon regulations that the Obama administration has begun. With a rapidly growing clean energy sector, these will begin to change the game.  Chiat concludes:

"If the regulations actually deliver, encouraging the market to find inexpensive ways to switch to cleaner fuels, and to save money through conservation, then the incentive to revert back to unregulated carbon emissions will be small. Doing so might even impose new costs on businesses that had adjusted to Obama’s regulations.

If the Republican warnings prove true — if compliance costs run beyond projections, if foreign countries refuse to cooperate, if the Earth does not continue to warm, if Americans are shivering in the dark, then there will be opportunities for them to win elections and go back to dumping carbon into the atmosphere for free. The risks on the opposite side dwarf those possibilities."

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Scandal of Tweets

A scandal of tweets (that's like a gaggle of geese) erupted in response to the President's statement and press conference Thursday, not because of any of his statements or answers that carefully explained current US policy and mapped out future plans and possibilities vis a vis ISIS/ISIL, Russia and the Ukraine, the economy and immigration.   Because he wore a light brown suit!

What a scandal!

Race in your Face

John Crawford
It's not even an irony anyone mentions anymore, that America's elder statesman of truth-telling journalism is the host of a fake news show on the Comedy Channel.  But Jon Stewart tells the truth about race in America and its relationship to Ferguson in this recent segment.

We went through a few decades in which race wasn't part of the public conversation, leading a lot of white Americans to believe that racial discrimination no longer exists.  These years were primarily during Republican administrations.  Now there is not only a Democrat in the White House, but an African American, and racism is way out of the closet.  Some white people are shaken and shocked, while others are overflowing with resentment.  Still others--the most blatant racists--are liberated.

The "there is no racism" mantra of right wing zealots obscures and therefore makes possible the most blatant outrages.  The Ferguson killing is just one.  John Crawford, a young black man, was shot on sight in a Wal-Mart in the act of shopping while black.  A video confirms that he got no warning, although he was merely fingering a toy gun while talking on his cell phone.

Jeremy Lake
In Oklahoma an off-duty white cop shot and killed Jeremy Lake, a young black man, as he was introducing himself.  His crime was dating the cop's daughter.  His daughter witnessed the shooting and confirms that there was no argument beforehand.

The blatant and all non-white encompassing racism expressed by that now-suspended Missouri cop ("I'm into diversity. I kill everybody, I don't care"), even invoking his Christian religion ("I personally believe in Jesus Christ as my lord savior, but I'm also a killer") with no recognition of the contradiction (that the historical Jesus was not white and therefore on his firing line is the least of the ironies), is the most extreme--yet this man has political and media defenders.

It is the daily racism that escapes the notice of most whites.  After providing a few examples, Jon Stewart concluded:"Race is there, and it is a constant," Stewart said. "You're tired of hearing about it? Imagine how f*cking exhausting it is living it."

Everyone begins with bias.  But almost everyone has suffered from it to some extent.  There's tons of evidence of bias regarding something as non-visual and abstract yet of vital importance as evaluating job resumes.  The evidence shows class bias, bias against women, against non-white names, or "funny names," i.e. foreign-sounding.  I grew up with bias against my "long" Polish last name, my Italian heritage, my working class origins.  Even with the advantages of being a white male.

One crucial point is imagination.  Having felt some element of bias, can you not imagine how it would be for others?  Another point is knowing the limitations of your own experience.  Why assume that when people of color recount frequent if not constant racism, that they aren't telling the truth?  Their experience is not your experience, and the only way you can understand what they're saying is to listen to them, realize they know more about it than you do.  We'd feel better if it wasn't true, it's not pleasant to hear it, but "imagine how fucking exhausting it is living it."

But some white people, despite their pious claims of racial neutrality, know about bias.  They just don't want to be the victims of it.  With more non-whites in positions of power, they theorize, they will be (or are) victims of bias. They interpret the lack of bias in their favor as bias against them, in employment for example.  They feel threatened by prospective lack of preferential treatment, though they're unlikely to put it that way.

There are of course people of all colors and genders who abuse their power, and there are people of all colors who cynically use the most convenient excuse to the point of lying about it.  Efforts to compensate for past bias by deliberately hiring non-whites or women, for example, do result in individual losses.  (I've been told I lost jobs that way. But how many other opportunities have I had because I'm a white male?) None of that contradicts the pervasive existence of racism in America.  Our future depends on dealing with it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Climate in Crisis

Criticized by outsiders for minimizing the dangers and soft-peddling the effects of the climate crisis, and charged from within the climate scientist community for censoring and watering down prior reports, a new UN climate panel draft report is said to be stark and uncompromising.  At least for now.

According to the New York Times:

"Runaway growth in the emission of greenhouse gases is swamping all political efforts to deal with the problem, raising the risk of “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” over the coming decades, according to a draft of a major new United Nations report.

Global warming is already cutting grain production by several percentage points, the report found, and that could grow much worse if emissions continue unchecked. Higher seas, devastating heat waves, torrential rain and other climate extremes are also being felt around the world as a result of human-produced emissions, the draft report said, and those problems are likely to intensify unless the gases are brought under control."

Quoting the report directly:“Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reduction in snow and ice, and in global mean-sea-level rise; and it is extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” the draft report said. “The risk of abrupt and irreversible change increases as the magnitude of the warming increases.”

The Times story notes that this report, meant to be a summary of previous reports, is not official until November, and will go through the diplomatic process that has resulted in less definite language in the past.  But, the Times notes:

Using blunter, more forceful language than the reports that underpin it, the new draft highlights the urgency of the risks that are likely to be intensified by continued emissions of heat-trapping gases, primarily carbon dioxide released by the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas...It cited rising political efforts around the world on climate change, including efforts to limit emissions as well as to adapt to changes that have become inevitable. But the report found that these efforts were being overwhelmed by construction of facilities like new coal-burning power plants that will lock in high emissions for decades."

More conclusions:

"The new report found that it was still technically possible to limit global warming to an internationally agreed upper bound of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 2 degrees Celsius, above the preindustrial level. But continued political delays for another decade or two will make that unachievable without severe economic disruption, the report said."

"The draft report found that past emissions, and the failure to heed scientific warnings about the risks, have made large-scale climatic shifts inevitable. But lowering emissions would still slow the expected pace of change, the report said, providing critical decades for human society and the natural world to adapt.

“Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems,” the report said.

The report noted that severe weather events, some of them linked to human-produced emissions, had disrupted the food supply in recent years, leading to several spikes in the prices of staple grains and destabilizing some governments in poorer countries.

Continued warming, the report found, is likely to “slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing poverty traps and create new ones, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger.”

None of this is new to most scientists, scholars, activists and reporters who have followed the subject.  So the UN panel is hardly alone in these conclusions.  Others buttress and extend them.  For instance, the Sydney Morning Herald reports on  at a conference in Australia: "The world is headed "down a dangerous path" with disruption of the food system possible within a decade as climate change undermines nations' ability to feed themselves, according to a senior World Bank official..."Unless we chart a new course, we will find ourselves staring volatility and disruption in the food system in the face, not in 2050, not in 2040, but potentially within the next decade," she said, according to her prepared speech.'

Meat and diary prices are already rising in the US due primarily to drought, but so far within the comfort level of most Americans.  There's little prospect of a reversal and it's more likely that prices will continue to climb.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

That Old Time Religion

This week's New Yorker cover painting.  The hands up (don't shoot) gesture has become the signature of the Ferguson protests, there and elsewhere.  It accompanies Jelani Cobb's latest report.   Meanwhile, the Ferguson police department is under intense scrutiny, and a police officer who had been on duty during the demonstrations has been suspended after a long racist rant which reportedly included: "I'm into diversity. I kill everybody, I don't care...I personally believe in Jesus Christ as my lord savior, but I'm also a killer. I’ve killed a lot. And if I need to, I'll kill a whole bunch more. If you don't want to get killed, don't show up in front of me, it's that simple."

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Flame Still Burns

The second great song from "Still Crazy."  Not the best picture but the sound is good.  Think of the lyrics as this Monday's substitute for the Dreaming Up Daily Weekly Quote.
Just a note for the possibly concerned: the 6.0 Napa earthquake that hit early Sunday morning was considerably south of the North Coast, so we're fine.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Changing Climate?

It used to be called The Great Turning, the Turning Point.  Now it's The Swerve.  It is a definitive move towards addressing the climate crisis and the many complex questions that ensue, about how economics and politics are done, and how we factor and weigh the environment in the ordinary equation of public and private action.  Some prominent voices on the subject have been predicting it and waiting for it for years, even decades.

Is it happening now?  Robert Jay Lifton believe so, and says so in a New York Times opinion piece:

"AMERICANS appear to be undergoing a significant psychological shift in our relation to global warming. I call this shift a climate “swerve,” borrowing the term used recently by the Harvard humanities professor Stephen Greenblatt to describe a major historical change in consciousness that is neither predictable nor orderly...Experience, economics and ethics are coalescing in new and important ways."

Why now?  Polls and attitude studies, Lifton writes, confirm that experience with catastrophic and traumatic effects is a big factor:

"The experiential part has to do with a drumbeat of climate-related disasters around the world, all actively reported by the news media: hurricanes and tornadoes, droughts and wildfires, extreme heat waves and equally extreme cold, rising sea levels and floods. Even when people have doubts about the causal relationship of global warming to these episodes, they cannot help being psychologically affected. Of great importance is the growing recognition that the danger encompasses the entire earth and its inhabitants. We are all vulnerable."

People no longer have to imagine what the effects of the climate crisis might be--at least, some of the less complex effects, obvious in discrete events:

"The most important experiential change has to do with global warming and time. Responding to the climate threat — in contrast to the nuclear threat, whose immediate and grotesque destructiveness was recorded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki — has been inhibited by the difficulty of imagining catastrophic future events. But climate-related disasters and intense media images are hitting us now, and providing partial models for a devastating climate future."

Lifton moves on to economics, where the awareness is dawning that all the theoretical financial assets represented by fossil fuels still to be unearthed are likely to remain "stranded" because of their deathly danger to the planet.

"In contrast, renewable energy sources, which only recently have achieved the status of big business, are taking on increasing value, in terms of returns for investors, long-term energy savings and relative harmlessness to surrounding communities...In a world fueled by oil and coal, it is a truly stunning event when investors are warned that the market may end up devaluing those assets. We are beginning to see a bandwagon effect in which the overall viability of fossil-fuel economics is being questioned."

Lifton sees the economics entwined with ethics.  Climate crisis effects begin to tip the balance against the free market values of extracting the fossil fuels that will end up destroying civilization.  People who insist on their predominance may be stuck with "stranded ethics."

Lifton, whose recent work involves comparing the climate crisis with the nuclear weapons threat concludes: "I have come to the realization that it is very difficult to endanger or kill large numbers of people except with a claim to virtue."

Lifton believes that increasing awareness provides the base support and also the energy and participation for a social movement to address the climate crisis.  He recalls the "nuclear freeze" movement of the 90s, and suggests a galvanizing phrase might be a "climate freeze."  I don't see that one working, but the first test of an emerging movement is coming up: The People's Climate March is scheduled for September 21 in New York City.  An impressive roster of organizations is involved, and the schedule includes a number of preliminary events.  Organizers are calling for the largest mass demonstration on behalf of the climate in US history, with global reach, since the march ends at the United Nations.

These preparations are underway as the climate news of the week was the conclusion of a study that posits that the slower than expected rise in global temperature is due to 30 year currents in the Atlantic Ocean that is driving heat into the deep ocean.  Other theories involved heat trapped in the ocean depths, but this suggests the mechanics of it.

  If it is true, the authors suggest, the current slow rise may continue until 2025 or so, even though carbon dioxide is being added to the atmosphere at an historically high rate.  This is both beneficial and dangerous.  It is beneficial in that it provides some time to start addressing causes and dealing with effects, with less climate-caused chaos than would otherwise exist.  It's dangerous if it leads to complacency, to any sense that it's not going to happen, or it's not going to be so bad after all. For when the ocean currents change, that heat will be released while new heat won't disappear into the ocean depths.  So temperatures will rise rapidly.

It's important to note that even with temperatures rising more slowly than they should be, the effects of global heating are increasing.  Deeper drought, more frequent fierce storms, fires, mudslides, etc.  In fact, as if to buttress Lipton's comparison of the climate crisis to nuclear weapons, last week a climate related disaster  happened when torrential rains led to landslides that killed as many as 100 and forced the evacuation of 100,000--in Hiroshima, which earlier this month marked the 69th anniversary of the city devastated by the first atomic bomb dropped on a populated place.  All the photos with this post are from there, not 69 years ago, but this past week.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

US Champs

Congratulations to Chicago's Jackie Robinson West, the Illinois/Great Lakes Region team, now the US Little League World Series champs.  They play South Korea for the world title.

It's been fun and inspiring to watch some of this year's Little League WS.  This all-black team of inner city Chicago kids that has their city rooting them on in watch parties across Chicago, as well as the Girl of Summer, Mo'ne Davis, are the prominent stories.  But for all the attention (and the incredible mental and well as physical baseball skills of Davis, for instance) this is still Little League.  Kids get scared and upset when they screw up, they cry when they lose.  Their emotions are part of the game.  But it does seem that coaches and officials take a lot of care to recognize they are kids and respond to their needs.

All Over the World Tonight

This 1998 film about a 70s glam rock band getting back together somehow passed me by at the time, but better late than never.  In the story, this is the song that shows the band has turned around and is ready.  I found the movie because of Bill Nighy, and his performance as the lead singer on this song (and that's him singing) is wonderful in itself.  The picture is pretty good--not as good full screen as the film--but the sound is excellent.  Turn it up! It's one of the two great songs in the movie, and it's perfect for Dreaming Up Daily, and to kick off the weekend.

P.S. I've also added a "music video" label.  Click on that to access some tunes of yesteryear, including all those Obama campaign songs of 2008.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

portrait of Churchill Dec. 1941 by Yousuf Karsh
"You do your worst and we will do our best.”

Winston Churchill in December 1941, speaking of the Axis powers soon after Pearl Harbor, to the U.S. Congress.


President Obama's statement yesterday on the murder of American journalist James Foley rightly characterized the ISIL terrorists as extremist murderers and torturers with no legitimate place in civilized society.  President Obama is able to make this charge credibly precisely because he has been so nuanced in his statements and policies, especially regarding Islamic peoples.

Not everybody is so precise or accurate.  The haters who aim the energy of their racial and religious prejudices are all too ready to make blanket accusations.  Some of this is the worst kind of politics, reviving the racial ignorance that goes immediately to a non-white against white scenario (which is also at work in reactions to events in Missouri.)  Neil Steinberg's column is a must-read on this topic (including his brilliantly selected and appropriate Winston Churchill quotes.)  

This murder has focused attention on ISIS/ISIL.  It's identity is emerging as a kind of terrorist cult-- a lot like the Kymer Rouge in Cambodia--but not limited to people from one country or of one race.  Learning about this entity will help to formulate responses.

But in the aftermath of this horrific murder, this is a dangerous time.  Already extreme voices and political opportunists are whipping up war fever and xenophobic hysteria.

We don't need bluster, and we can all be grateful that Cheney and Co. are not in the White House at this moment.  We don't need Hillary Clinton's bluster either, of the kind she expressed in her Atlantic interview.  We need accuracy and strategy, and a renewed commitment to the best aspects of our civilization.

Update: More on strategy--and the fever--in this Guardian report.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

America 2014

What's going on?  In America 2014.  Violent responses may be the work of a few outsiders, and the precipitating act--a police shooting and killing of an unarmed young black man in broad daylight--is still the focal point, but more is happening and more is being exposed in Ferguson, Missouri. Race is central to what is happening. While many whites presumed the higher visibility of blacks in the media, in the professions and the workplace meant that racism was over, its effects have continued.  Racial injustice and the need for justice on many fronts, and the politics of race (and the racism of politics) are all coming to the fore.

The militarization of police is not just about hardware.  The scene above--heavily armed men in combat gear pointing deadly firearms that appear to be military (perhaps semi-automatics or automatics)-- at unarmed civilians on a public street in an American town was seldom if ever seen during the Civil Rights movement or huge anti-war demonstrations.  It's something that US soldiers in Afghanistan or Iraq seldom if ever did.  It tells a story about the shocking place we are in 2014.  Wherever that place is, it's not America, not for long.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Girl of Summer

Mo'ne Davis, who Friday became the first female pitcher to win a Little League World Series game with a complete game 2-hit gem, helped Philadelphia' Mid-Atlantic Region champs win over Texas on Sunday with an RBI single in a come from behind thriller.  She'll pitch again Wednesday against Las Vegas.

Friday, August 15, 2014

News Week: Lows and Highs

The news quite often causes us to wonder just how low human beings can go, and how insane elements of our culture can become.  "Curiosity" about these is likely a big reason the internet is what it is these days.  I'm not generally in sympathy with this obsession for the darkest and most bizarre to tweet and tsk tsk about.  And as farcical as it gets, I don't look for my laughs there either.

But sometimes such evidence is unavoidable, as in the aftermath of the death by suicide of Robin Williams.  Based on very early reporting, the internet and its established news sites (including those associated with long established if now desperate print publications) were flooded with analyses and especially first person comparisons, opinions, etc. of all kinds.  All based, as it turned out but not surprisingly, on incomplete information.  Thursday his wife revealed that he had known he was in the early stages of Parkinson's Disease, of which depression is a common symptom.

But the usual range of opportunism and self-aggrandizement (along with sincere remembrances) were utterly innocent in comparison with the hateful and hate-filled comments by rabid right extremists, including so-called leaders and so-called Christians.  I won't dignify their repulsive and cynical and corrupt commentary by repeating any of it or identifying any of them, especially since their primary goal is to get named.

On top of this, the tendency of internet sites and social media to attract those most twisted with hate, ego and myriad delusions, culminating in one of Robin Williams' daughters being so bullied and abused that she quit all of her social media accounts.

Yet the news also provides us with contrasts, which may be straws to grasp but definitely are loci of hope.  This past week provided at least these:

The Fields Medal, widely regarded as the equivalent of a Nobel Prize for mathematics, was won for the first time in history by a woman:  Maryam Mirzakhani, a Stanford University professor who was born in Iran.  Her work is called boldly original and it appears to cross boundaries between traditional mathematical disciplines.  To somebody who couldn't understand trig, it sounds as if it can be significant beyond academic math.

The victory of course is as well for all the women who were told, and all the girls who still are told one way or another, that girls aren't good at math, it's for males only.  For them this is the academic equivalent of  Lisa Leslie's first WNBA slam dunk.  And that's before the significance of her work itself can be evaluated in the future.

Then there's the Little League World Series, and the victory of Jackie Robinson West of Chicago in their first game, sparked by three--count 'em, three--home runs (plus a triple) by leadoff batter Pierce Jones.  Representing Great Lakes Region as the Illinois state champs, Jackie Robinson West from the South Side of Chicago is the first all-black team to make it to the LLWS in "over a decade" (according to this ESPN report) and the first Chicago team since the 80s.  The team is part of the league's urban initiative program begun 15 years ago.  

Best of all perhaps, they are the toast of Chicago.  The Jackie Robinson West team doesn't know, said their coach, how big they are back in Chicago.  Another ESPN piece quotes: Gabe Bump, fiction writer and Chicago resident, said of this JRW run for the right to do something seldom seen by any Little League team from Chicago, "It's important because they are the kids Chicago wants to forget about. These are the kids that get their schools closed. I'm rooting for them because they're South Side kids, but it's much more to it than that."

The story concludes: "here's almost a feeling that what is happening now has nothing to do with sports. It's something much bigger. At least, that's the way it is being taken in; that is how it is being embraced. Basically, calling this a feel-good story is underselling the true nature of the weight this story carries at this moment."

Update: On the second day of the Little League World Series, Pennsylvania team pitcher Mo'Ne Davis threw a two-hitter to become the first female pitcher to win a LLWS game.  She's also black.  Apart from the extra-sports significance, these stories are big deals for baseball because the proportion of African American MLB players has been diminishing.  

Thursday, August 14, 2014

An American Tragedy

It's an American tragedy specifically because race is at its center, and despite everything from good faith efforts through wistful hope to obvious denial and political opportunism, it's wearily the same American tragedy it's been for centuries, just the latest chapter.

The events in Missouri began with a police officer shooting down an unarmed teenager in broad daylight.  This--but I strongly suspect not this alone--led to protests, then looting and vandalism, then more protests, and then several nights of police actions that have been widely criticized.

A reporter who witnessed the fourth night of protests wrote:

"What transpired in the streets appeared to be a kind of municipal version of shock and awe; the first wave of flash grenades and tear gas had played as a prelude to the appearance of an unusually large armored vehicle, carrying a military-style rifle mounted on a tripod. The message of all of this was something beyond the mere maintenance of law and order: it’s difficult to imagine how armored officers with what looked like a mobile military sniper’s nest could quell the anxieties of a community outraged by allegations regarding the excessive use of force. It revealed itself as a raw matter of public intimidation."

The events in Missouri brought focus to the increasingly "militarization" of US police forces, the willing dump for the Pentagon's surplus weapons designed for combat and antiterrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thursday the governor of Missouri ordered the state police to take charge, and its commanding officer (black and who grew up in this town) seemed to have calmed things down.

But the racial element of the shooting is the true focus (though this militarization is obviously part of it, as non-whites--especially black and brown people-- are treated as the equivalent of foreign enemies and terrorists in their own cities.)  Writing about the killing of Michael Brown that precipitated the Missouri protests, Amy Davidson in the New Yorker:

"Michael Brown was black and tall; was it his body that the police officer thought was dangerous enough? Perhaps it was enough for the officer that he lived on a certain block in a certain neighborhood; shooting down the street, after all, exhibits a certain lack of concern about anyone else who might be walking by. That sort of calculus raises questions about an entire community’s rights. One way or the other, this happens too often to young men who look like Brown, or like Trayvon Martin, or, as President Obama once put it, like a son he might have had."

These incidents are deeply related to the white gun culture.  This Daily Kos diary makes this point while contrasting two situations of the previous week: of a white young man openly carrying a loaded shotgun on a public street, refusing to relinquish it to police officers without penalty, and a young black man who was toying with a toy gun in a Walmart toy section while talking on his cell to his girlfriend, and was shot down and killed by police.

In an internet culture keyed to oddity, the Walmart story went viral for awhile, soon replaced by next "bizarre" tweet-worthy photo or tale.  But many black people take greater note of such a happening, and they do not forget so quickly.

Racism is alive on American streets and endangers us all.

(Top photo is from the New York Times.)

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Big Dry

It's not just the brown grass in the front yard, or the brown fields along 101 that look more like southern California or the Bay area than our far northern California home.  It's the latest stats: the US Drought Monitor has placed us in the Exceptional Drought category, the highest possible. (It's marked in the darkest color on the map.)

The entire state of California has been in some category of drought conditions for awhile.  But as recently as January, no part of the state was in the Exceptional Drought category.  Now 58% of the state is, including almost all of the coast.

Update: Drought and climate change threaten our redwoods, and the big trees in general, which a scientist says could be completely gone in a century.

The latest reports and scientific speculation on El Nino (that it is less likely to be the strong one that often brings rain to California, and it is less likely to occur at all) was the top story on the local newspaper front page, along with predictions for a dry winter.

Meanwhile there are so many fires--10 in northern California, to the north, east and south of us, as well as in Oregon--that our skies have a hint of red.

Water policy has become a statewide concern, reflected in the state legislatures.  After the Brown administration resisted restrictions on water-wasting fracking, some sites are being shut down for fear of contaminating aquifers.

 Cities are adding personnel to police water use restrictions that went into effect statewide on August 1. And in yet another dubious use of new technology, if you want to report your neighbor for wasting water--there's an app for that.

 In a more positive response, municipalities are becoming more interested in water purification, especially since in many cases the purification and reuse of waste water costs less than desalinization or even purchasing water from remote locations.

In the short term California tends to be more extremist than some other places, so water consciousness and conflicts are going to ramp up quickly.  But in the long term, changes that have long been discussed will need to be really considered, and the best of them implemented.  Extraordinary drought doesn't look like it will end soon, and in any case the climate crisis is going to make dry cycles and "normal" times dryer in most places for the foreseeable future.  If we held out hopes up here in the far northern coast of the state that our unique climate would be immune, it's clear now that it isn't.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Climate Vs. Distraction

The politics of distraction has been markedly successful for reactionary forces.  Distort, distract and refocus the debate on outrageous distortions that make something as conservative as Obamacare seem radical, and debate on the deeper and more meaningful changes in the dysfunctional US healthcare system ends--with the insurance companies still in charge.

The politics of distraction has been particularly successful on the climate crisis.  While it was something that was happening but would manifest its damaging effects on humanity in the future, the necessary debate on what to do about it was sidelined by the raging and outrageous phony debate on whether it was real.

But now the effects are showing up in the present, and denialists are beginning to sound like those tobacco companies hacks and stooges who were still claiming in the 1990s that the science was uncertain about the harmful effects of tobacco smoking.

It may be that the virilence of their denials is in inverse proportion to the weaknesses of their arguments.  In any case, the political efforts to deny the climate crisis--and especially deny responsibility for changes necessary to forestall it getting worse in the future that the present can still affect--is massive.

These efforts seem to be centered on creating a political atmosphere that enables corporations to protect their current activities and profits.  The political windbags and the relentless denialists on the Internet are the stormtroopers.  Their job is to distract and keep the debate as crazy as possible, and stuck on the fundamental denialist issues.  The actual battles are being waged in legislatures.  The Republicans in the US Congress effectively hold Congress hostage.  But there are pitched battles in state legislatures.

Take a very recent effect of the climate crisis out of the many in the news this month: the half a million people in Ohio who couldn't drink their water because of algae building up in Lake Erie.  The causes form a perfect storm we're going to see again and again--environmental malfeasance by big corporations (principally agribusinesses using high phosphate fertilizers) with consequences also caused by the climate crisis (principally more rain and heat in the affected area.)  It was, salon said, a manmade disaster.

Moreover, Scientific American said in its headlines:Lake Erie Algae Bloom Matches Climate Change Projections/ The bloom that poisoned Toledo's waters may become more common as the waters of the Great Lakes warm.

Connections to big corporate efforts to bully state legislatures are made in this brilliant Guardian column by Ana Marie Cox.  Although the Republican governor of Ohio signed fairly weak legislation that at least recognized the problem of phosphates in fertilizer runoff,  Cox notes:

In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker “eased” the deadlines for polluters in the state to meet the previous administration’s numerical standards for the amount of phosphorous allowed in public waters (he tried to replace the numeric standards with a “narrative description” of reduction efforts, but wasn’t successful). In Tea Partying Florida, the Republican state legislature sought to overturn locally-enacted bans on phosphorus fertilizer – an effort pushed by a Scotts Miracle-Gro lobbyist who texted a representative, “I am begging for your help here.”

Cox also found counterexamples: "purple" and "red" states that are addressing the phosphate issue, because their citizens don't take kindly to the prospect of not having water to drink.  She suggests that Republicans have the opportunity now to change their current extreme opposition to anything that smacks of doing the environment any good.

But this change into extreme anti-environmentalism (the EPA after all was established in the Nixon administration) took some years and will resist, at least until very powerful corporations start turning themselves around.  Agribusiness may be the last except for the fossil fuel behemoths, that are busy buying up state governments all over the country to enable fracking and other extreme measures that keep them rolling in the megabucks in the fossil fuel business.

For the American citizenry as a whole, which polls show is already alarmed by the climate crisis, the political effects will likely come in the form of demanding that government deals with the effects of the climate crisis on their lives.  So far there hasn't been the division between dealing with causes and dealing with effects that I've feared, but it's always possible.  For now, it seems that support for dealing with effects (including banning phosphate fertilizers) may well translate into support for dealing with causes (reducing greenhouse gases.)

So we're doing it the hard way, by suffering the effects that cannot be forestalled because we didn't deal with causes earlier.  But it's getting harder to be distracted. The climate crisis is all around us.